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Naming Rites

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, this debate has emerged on what to call the virus. Some may currently consider racial epithets a trivial issue in light of presumed growing morbidity/mortality rates; but words matter, especially edicts coming from our leaders contributing to a particular environment and producing lasting consequences, especially during a worldwide crisis.

The President has repeatedly used the term “Chinese Virus,” citing his insistence on emphasizing the truthful origin of the pestilence from Wuhan wet markets. While that assertion is correct, critics, including Trump’s own epidemiologist and director of the National Instititute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and insist on using the term, COVID-19, so at best not to stigmatize a particular region or ethnic group, and at worst, not be racist. 

As a business ethicist, I am constantly called upon to determine whether a given action is moral. Some actions are obviously not, and we don’t need a Ph.D. in ethics to render it so. Calling a person a chink or jap or denying African-American individuals a job or house because of race is definitely wrong. Other actions fall in a gray area, and we must investigate various components of the action to judge moral character. To adjudicate a controversial moral act, we must take a look at 1) the action itself; 2) its intent; and 3) the consequences.

The term, “Chinese Virus,” and issues like financial incentives and affirmative action fall in this debatable grey area and demand further analysis. Since using this label is precisely what is at question, and discovering an individual’s motivation is difficult, we must turn to the consequences of the act to shed further light on moral character.

Upon reflection during these political times and crises moments, we must give extra grace and “benefit of the doubt” to those on the other side of the aisle. I must admit not caring much for 45; however, I must give him credit for apparently changing his mind/behavior about giving the virus an ethnicity, but finally being up front about its nefarious impact on morbidity and mortality … regardless of motivation. A worldwide pandemic is not a normal situation, but it neither gives pretext for the blame game nor the opportunity to needle one another. Nationwide stress levels and impatience run high, and everyone is on edge. I don’t envy our nation’s leadership; it’s far easier to criticize than assume their role/position. I thank them for governing during this difficult time. In clicking on Internet links, I have noticed that outside observers, including myself, tend to prejudge an actor’s motivations based on their own respective political persuasion, and then form judgments presuming the actor’s intent. This confirmation bias needs a steady reprimand and counterequilibrium.

However, leaders must also acknowledge they are persons of influence, who in turn, affect larger ripples. There is a good reason the WHO has set parameters on how to label emerging illnesses. These terms set, reinforce, redefine, and have the capacity to harm neighboring countries and fail to love and respect fellow citizens. These consequences automatically make associating any virus with any region or race immoral and unethical. It is indeed appropriate to call a nation (e.g. China) accountable for being transparent in their reporting, and for their sanitary practices in the Wuhan Wet Markets. Just because illnesses (e.g., West Nile or Ebola Viruses) were associated in the past with its origins does not mean it is currently the rght thing to do. It is not kosher to engender a hostile environment for those not culpable for this malpractice (i.e., Chinese or Asian-American denizens).

May this scourge end quickly! Grace and peace to you and yours in the meantime.

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Opportunity Cost and the Price of Normalcy

A college friend of mine challenged me to consider integrating my past scholarly pursuits in philosophy and business ethics with my current experience dealing with a long-term illness, and guest lecturing in disability studies. So on that note, this blog post represents the first of many musings outlining the field of economic morality within a life-altering, adjusted lens.

Let us first consider some key terms, definitions, and operational lingo, which will facilitate our conversation in this discipline. The economist, Paul Krugman, asserts that business ethics is NOT primarily a study of money, but of human persons. In the disability community, it is oft mentioned that “It takes a lot of energy to be normal!”

Before digressing on a gratuitous excursion toward defining normal, and whether a handicapped person qualifies, the Opportunity Cost of a given state of affairs are the benefits lost in pursuing mutually exclusive courses of action. For instance, the opportunity cost of my suffering a stroke in October 2012 are all the benefits lost (financial, and/or otherwise in not having the hemorrhagic bleed; likewise, one could also estimate the opportunity cost of NOT having a stroke. These benefits include lessons learned, friendships gained, and the traumatic brain injury’s literal/figurative heartache.

Kudos to Mark Heinzig for the gentle push …

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Saquon Barkley and the Pragmatic ‘Ought’

To Declare or Not to Declare

In college football circles the last few weeks, the primary question surrounding Saquon Barkley’s future had been whether the 21-year-old ought to forgo his senior season at Penn State, and go pro.  With all the hype, you would think that his decision would encompass one of moral/ethical scope. It certainly takes on that tone, when pundits assert that he OUGHT or ought NOT head to the professional ranks.

But it is a mistake to view this athletic ‘ought’ as an ethical or moral act. Rather, the decision, while difficult, is  strictly pragmatic. Barkley has to decide whether to experience and enjoy the Fiesta Bowl with his teammates, while risking injury along with the concomitant reward of millions of dollars due him for five years of work in the NFL (the average running back does not last past his 29th birthday). It represents a pure risk/reward proposition rather than a moral decision.  However private the choice is for Barkley, he does also need to balance  this personal decision with the fact that he is a public figure, and has a duty/obligation to family, teammates, and the Penn State community who has supported him.  As Saquon reiterates, “This decision is not easy nor straightforward.”

 

 

 

 

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Illegal, Immoral, or Inappropriate Questions?

Eli Apple, highly touted Defensive Back of the Ohio State Buckeyes, and top NFL draft prospect was allegedly asked in an interview about his sexual preferences / orientation — a clear legal violation and inappropriate question in the interview hiring process. While both illegal and inappropriate, the question over Apple’s sthexual orientation is not immoral; i.e., it is NOT a query violating moral  conscience nor a matter of ethical debate.  It is important to understand this distinction:  The act is against the law AND a hiring policy violation; but it is not an instance of transgressing a company’s ethical boundaries, despite one’s personal preferences on the matter.

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Summer Plans

The Monday Morning Business Ethicist has been and will continue  to take a break from the Blog this summer as he rehabilitates from his hemorrhagic stroke in October ’12 and prepares to teach an online business ethics course at St. Ambrose University in Fall 2015.

Will be back to the Blog in short time!

AJC

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The “Origins” of Free Enterprise

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”

 

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